Micah Richards and Brad Guzan hopped off a disenfranchised ‘team’ bus to follow their leader in battle - Tim Sherwood - towards the King Power Stadium entrance, the doorway to the greatest Premier League story to date.
Sherwood was in search of the same reaction he managed to get out of a group of players galvanised to reach an FA Cup final, thanks to his half time words in a 2-1 home win against Leicester in 2015 - all before he could even get started at Bodymoor Heath.
After a memorable night under the lights against the Baggies, Villa had beaten Tony Pulis’ West Brom twice in a week to set up a sensational semi-final tie against Liverpool. But a Wembley visit four years ago paved over the cracks that would eventually resurface in Leicestershire, 15 weeks after Villa’s eleventh FA Cup final appearance.
Having maintained an unbeaten start to their second season back in the Premier League, Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes were creeping towards the top six as they hosted Villa in match-week five of the 2015-16 season.
For Villa, well, having known the forthcoming plight awaiting not only Sherwood, but Garde and dare I even remind, Eric Black, climbing to eight place with a win in the East Midlands would’ve hardly held much weight.
Though it all seemed to have hinged on that day, September, 13, 2015.
A crisp playing surface complimented a carnival atmosphere at the King Power, and an ever present boisterous away claret and blue following added a spice to an occasion brought to TV by Sky Sports.
Jack Grealish presented himself to the on-watching million or so by opening his account in the league he dreamed of playing in, with his beloved Aston Villa. He’s now walking his own team out with a revived sense of optimism and panache.
Slamming past Kasper Schmeichel in the home goal, Grealish - elated - ran over to Sherwood to celebrate a goal that was a reward for the Villa boss who handled Grealish with such faith, the player’s ability was for all to see having showcased en route to the FA Cup final.
On the hour mark, a special sort of Spanish strike doubled Villa’s lead as Carles Gil scored his first top flight goal. Curling into the top corner from Gabby Agbonlahor’s cut-back, Gil set Villa up for their second win on the road that term, after an opening day win at newly promoted Bournemouth.
A trepidation to defend a two goal lead was ultimately the downfall for a Villa side who were crushed by the next half an hour of football.
Having strung Richards, Joleon Lescott and Carlos Sanchez on a piece of string all afternoon, the magnificent Riyad Mahrez kickstarted a comeback for Leicester. The Algerian winger proved the inspiration behind a second-half recovery, but it was former Villan Ritchie De Laet who halved the deficit against his future club.
Jamie Vardy was due an exceptional, record breaking, title winning season. Not bad for a non-league player promoted into a Premier League spectrum of strikers commonly known on a global scale. Though football fans were only just getting to know Vardy back then, he levelled the scores as Villa seemingly crumbled under the cosh.
As Guzan coasted into absolutely no man’s land, the shortest player on the pitch, Nathan Dyer managed to squeeze in the games fifth goal, a winner for the hosts who were down and out at 2-0.
Was it Leicester’s desire or Villa’s dire straits?
Over the course of a liberating season for one and a laborious one for another, the die was most certainly cast after the most memorable fixture that Villa and Leicester have contested in the Premier League era.
Sherwood’s post match thoughts were damming: ”I’ve never felt this bad. Ever. There was a lot of bad play there in the last half hour. The only way you can stop the momentum is to stop the opposition. We turned it over stupidly.
”What can I say? I’m gutted for everyone who’s associated with the football club.”
It’s a grim reminder to Villa fans, the pain and suffering the Premier League can bring, but don’t we all know too well such toils, having learnt though the second division for three years, travelling to the likes of the Pirelli or New York Stadium.
Competing toe-to-toe in back-to-back away trips at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge in the build up to entertaining Leicester this Sunday, we’ve come an awful long way since seeing off Garde, Black, Di Matteo and Bruce.
Dean Smith can only envisage bringing back European nights that Foxes fans have enjoyed since 2016, let alone running a football club as efficiently as Leicester have done. Turning over assets like N’Golo Kante, Mahrez and recently Harry Maguire all to sustain a a top four place, years after winning the league itself.
In Christian Purslow and with a first team coach well versed in sustainable planning from is tenure at Brentford, Villa are no doubt years away from Leicester, but football can change quickly. Perhaps this weekend we’ll be the ones laying down a marker to kick start a season that has stuttered until now.